More dairy farmers are investing in robot technology to increase their income and get more time for themselves
Victorian farmers Evan and Sheriden Williams say their decision to invest in agricultural robots has given them a much needed work-life balance and renewed love for the industry.
The couple run the Williams-Lowndes dairy farm in Victoria and made the decision to replace their old rotary milking parlour with a robotic operating system.
“We’re in our 50s now and our bodies were tired from cupping cows up in the rotary dairy constantly and we were getting disillusioned.
“Our kids and grandkids are also on the farm and we decided investing in technology would progress the business and make things easier for the whole family,” Sheriden said.
“When the robots came, we both fell back in love with dairy again.”
The emergence of agriculture technology or ‘Agritech’ is creating significant domestic benefits for farming businesses and others in the agri-food supply chain.
“We’re no longer getting up at 5am every day to milk the cows. We have a renewed sense of flexibility with our day becoming whatever we make it – we might even sleep in, have a cuppa and get to work at 7am.
“With the robots, the cows come in over a 24 hour period, whenever they want to, it’s really up to them. The cows basically run the show now.”
The pair were pleasantly surprised by how quickly the cows adapted to the change – with the carefully placed set of cameras and sensors creating a seamless process for the cows and the overall milking process.
“They come back to the dairy, get some grain, get milked and switched to another part of the farm. And hopefully they do that at least twice a day.
“Some cows come in more than 3 times a day and some only once. It’s down to the cow.”
Evan and Sheriden Williams replaced their old rotary milking parlor with a robotic GEA system and that led them to the GEA CowScout technology.
“Before we had our CowScout system, Sheriden explains, we used to have tail paint or set out beacons. That was always a big job.
“We probably went out in the paddock three or four times a day and watch the cows as well. So that took up a lot of time, and that method was not 100% watertight either.
“If a cow has rubbed herself on a tree, and removed some of the paint, we would be second-guessing. Is she bulling or not.
With the GEA CowScout technology the cows wear CowScout tags.
These CowScout tags track the position of the cow, measure her steps, movements, eating behavior and rumination.
The data can be shown on a mobile or computer. So farm mangers can get a lot closer to the herd and we can keep track of the health of all the cows.
Sheriden is very content with what this system offers: “This technology tells us everything we need to know. It’s all there and you can see how strong her heat was.
“It’s really, really good in that way. I’m actually looking forward to the results that we will get for the last three months we’ve been using this.
“Because we’ve really been watching very well when to inseminate, making sure it’s the right time. So I actually think our in-calf rates will be pretty good, when we do the pregnancy tests.”
With the introduction of the automated system, the daily working routine changed on the farm.
Sheriden explains the difference: “Basically we used to check the cows as they would come on the platform.
“If we saw cows that would normally come on first and then were down towards the back of the yard, we would know that there’s something wrong with them.
“Now we start the day by checking the computer and see if there are any cows in the health report.
“The new system is picking up illnesses earlier than what we would previously. Just having the data there twenty four hours a day.”
This brings us to what we find is the biggest advantage Sheriden says, “The benefit of keeping track of the cows and their health. We can treat the cow earlier, which means she’s got a better chance of survival.
“The system registers the behaviour of the cows, presents clear attention lists and sends out notifications directly via emails or through the app in urgent situations.
“Checking those data takes us only a couple of minutes, it allows us more time with the kids or with the family.”
Sheriden is also very convinced of the benefits. “I would definitely miss the system if it wasn’t there anymore. I have learned to just 100% rely on the system. Because I know it’s working for us.”
With support from CBA’s lending solutions, the farm is currently planning to expand their technology investment, awaiting two additional robots to create more time and space for the robots to reach the growing herd of 320 cows.
“We’re also hoping to see a boost in milk once the two extra robots are installed over the coming months. Already we’ve noticed the health and overall immunity of our cows has improved and they are producing consistently high quality milk.”
The Williams’ farm isn’t the only one embracing the benefits of Agritech, as other producers are looking to incorporate similar systems to support their operations.
The industry has had a difficult few years but as things begin turning around, there are moments of positivity that make it all worthwhile.
“For us, the robots have helped create many of those moments and we imagine that as the interest and investment in digitisation grows, others will see similar benefits as well.” Sheriden concluded.
CBA’s General Manager of Agribusiness Tim Harvey said the growing momentum of Agritech is creating unique opportunities for the food and fibre sector across the country.
“Australian agribusinesses have always been innovative and the rise in ag-specific technology reflects this. It’s producing new commercial results and growth opportunities for customers and the industry,” he said.
“As Australia’s leading technology bank, we are excited to be partnering with Agritech and share the common goal of supporting the continued progress of the Ag industry.
“Enabling our farmers and growers to deliver more sustainable and profitable outcomes through technological innovation,” Mr Harvey said.